Editor's Note: The Bruins are facing a longer offseason than they had hoped after their title defense was ended early with a first-round loss to Washington. The extra time could come in handy though, as the Bruins have plenty of decisions to make this summer. At the top of that list is what they will do with the many pending free agents on their roster. Each day over the next two weeks, NESN.com Bruins beat writer Douglas Flynn will look at one of the club's veteran free agents.
Chris Kelly picked a perfect time to have a career year. He posted personal bests in both goals and points while remaining one of the top defensive forwards in the league. That makes him a very valuable commodity just as he is about to hit the market.
Kelly is due to become an unrestricted free agent on July 1 unless the Bruins can lock him up to a new deal. Failing to do so would be a big loss for the Bruins, but Kelly's success since coming to Boston before the 2011 trade deadline might also make it difficult to keep him in Black and Gold, as he is sure to have plenty of suitors in free agency.
2011-12 stats: 82 games, 20-19-39, plus-33, 41 PIMs; playoffs – 7 games, 1-2-3, plus-1, 4 PIMs
2011-12 cap hit: $2.125 million according to CapGeek.com
2012-13 status: Unrestricted free agent
Season in review:
The Bruins couldn't have asked for much more from Kelly in his first full season in Boston. After a strong postseason that helped bring the Cup back to Boston last spring, Kelly followed with his best offensive production in seven full seasons in the NHL.
His value came from more than just that 20-goal campaign, though. He had a knack for scoring big goals, finishing second on the team with six game-winners and adding another in the playoffs with an overtime strike in Game 1 against Washington. Including that playoff opener, the Bruins were 19-0-0 this season when Kelly scored.
Kelly also proved durable, as he was the only Bruin to play in all 82 games despite playing a physical style with 79 hits, a career-high three fighting majors (he had just two in his first six seasons combined, both coming as a rookie in 2005-06) and 56 blocked shots (trailing only Patrice Bergeron among Boston's forwards). Kelly was also tied for third in the league in plus/minus at plus-33, and was a key penalty killer and faceoff man, winning 51.8 percent of the draws he took.
Should Kelly be re-signed?:
Kelly can be easily overlooked because of the Bruins' depth down the middle, with Bergeron and David Krejci centering the top two lines and Tyler Seguin capable of shifting back to his natural position of center. But the Bruins are well aware of the contributions Kelly has made in his brief time here in Boston.
Kelly was named an alternate captain before the start of the 2011-12 season after playing just four months with the team. Kelly provides leadership and experience, not to mention outstanding two-way play, and having that kind of depth has been a key component of the Bruins' success. With all of that in mind, Kelly should absolutely be the top priority among Boston's UFAs.
Will Kelly be re-signed?:
While Kelly has proven his worth in Boston, he may be a luxury the Bruins can't afford to keep. It will depend on the terms he is seeking after his career year, but the Bruins have limited cap space to work with, and also have to plan for the possibility of the cap shrinking when a new CBA is finally hammered out. Boston's depth down the middle would help the Bruins withstand the loss of Kelly, though they would certainly be stronger with him remaining on the roster.
Kelly has made it known that he would like to stay in Boston, but while the Bruins were able to sign pending free agents Rich Peverley, David Krejci, Johnny Boychuk and Shawn Thornton to extensions during the season, talks were put on hold between the club and Kelly. That could indicate a desire by Kelly to at least explore the market on July 1, but the Bruins still have more than a month to try to prevent that.
In Kelly's own words:
"I'll always weigh every option, every possibility," Kelly said at the club's breakup day last month. "That's my job as a player and as a guy with a young family. That's my responsibility. But I think if we can get something done here I would like to stay here. This is a great team, a great organization, and I know being on a good, winning hockey team is an important thing to me, and always has been."
Tuesday, May 22: Gregory Campbell